RENSSELAER — The Rensselaer Volunteer Fire Department’s roster will now include a list of roughly 25 volunteers — plus one.
On Monday, the Rensselaer City Council voted to put a proposal in motion to hire a full-time fire chief. It’s believed to be the first full-time position at the department, which was established in 1896, since the early 1900s.
Mayor Steve Wood said he would like to see the current chief — Kenny Haun, who also serves as the city’s building commissioner — fill that role beginning this spring.
He said the council already set aside money for the new position in its 2021 budget. But the city’s salary ordinance must be tweaked to reflect that change.
“What we’re doing tonight is moving forward,” Wood told council members Monday, “but we have to make an amendment to the salary ordinance and that may not pass until the next meeting.”
The full-time chief’s responsibilities will include coordinating fire runs and training sessions, filling out paperwork, providing general truck and building maintenance and holding daily hours at the fire house.
A 35-year member of RVFD, Haun proposes hours of 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, though he believes some days will be much longer once fire runs are factored in.
“I’ll be going to calls no matter what day or night it is. Nothing’s going to change from what I’m doing now. If I’m available, I respond,” he said.
RVFD also built a training center adjacent to the fire house recently and a fire chief can oversee activity there as well, Haun said.
“I don’t know what the future holds for this training facility, but if things progress there and police departments and fire departments should use it, I think it’s important to have somebody there to do that,” he said.
Wood has pushed for a full-time fire chief for the past couple of years and believes one is needed now. Haun will stay on as building commissioner while he trains his replacement, Wood said.
“This thing has turned into a full-time job anymore with the runs and structure fires,” Wood said. “Paperwork is getting to the point where Mr. Haun trying to do both jobs is just not working out anymore.”
RVFD’s covers 232 square miles, which is the second most in the state for a volunteer department, Haun said. There are currently 25 full- and part-time volunteers with a limit of 30 and the department receives mutual aid from roughly nine other departments in the area.
Before a motion to move forward was presented, council member Noelle Weishaar asked Haun if a full-time fire chief is needed.
“Our call volume, in my opinion, isn’t where it would need to be, when you are talking just call volume,” Haun said. “But when you look at the other things involved such as the billing hours and meetings, inspections, then, yeah, I’d say it probably would warrant it. It’s probably going to be even more warrant, I think, in the next year, possibly two years. The call volume is borderline. Just as of today (Feb. 8), we’ve had 35 calls since Jan. 1 and we’re 39 days into the year. Is that going to change, I don’t know. I don’t have a magic ball to tell me what tomorrow’s going to bring, but our call volume is definitely going up.”
Just as he was answering Weishaar’s question, the department received call No. 36 of a rollover on I-65.
Weishaar also asked whether there was enough duties to stay busy over the length of a work day.
“So you think you have plenty to keep you busy?” she asked. “I know with the size of the community, we’re not very big. I know we get a lot of interstate activity. That’s the biggest thing. But you feel like you have enough work to keep you busy in a full-time position?”
Haun said he will have plenty to do, particularly with the increased amount of paperwork that has been the norm over the past few years. He will also stay on top of maintaining equipment at the fire house.
“We do a lot of general stuff ourselves or we try to, like light bulbs, for example,” he said. “We’re constantly changing light bulbs on different trucks. Sometimes we hire those out, sometimes we don’t. There are some other general maintenance we do such as weekly truck checks. With this position, that gentleman can go in there every day and check those trucks to make sure there are no problems. Right now, we do it on a weekly basis.
“I don’t think it’s going to be different than any other job like the building department for that matter. There are days when it’s really busy and days where it’s not as busy.”
Haun has also proposed a take-home vehicle for the new position. His ability to get to the fire house quicker will shrink the department’s response time.
“It’s definitely going to change our response time for the better,” he said. “Currently, we’re averaging from the time of dispatch to the time the first truck rolls out of the building is three to four minutes. When we had the COVID testing going on for two weeks at the fire house, I had the truck with me at home and our response time changed from an average of 3.30 minutes to under a minute.”